“She’s dead”, were the words that pierced my ears as they were screamed down the phone.
“What do you mean? Are you joking?”, were my natural responses.
“No, she’s dead. She’s killed herself. Please can you tell your mum”.
That is the conversation that will be etched in my mind for the rest of my life. It was the day I learned that my 17 year old cousin, whom I loved so dearly and was the closest to in age, had decided to take her own life.
The years that followed, eleven of them now, have just seemed like a revolving door of confusion, guilt and deep sadness. A lot of the time, I plodded through life, not asking questions about her death, suppressing my thoughts of her and becoming further estranged from the very family that you would think, after a tragedy like this, would become your closest allies in life. It was terrifying and often I felt completely alone. I regularly thought my emotions were spinning out of control so fast that I did not know how to get up in the mornings and continue with day-to-day life, which seemed completely mundane and pointless. But somehow, I did.
Plunging into deep depression and battling anxiety after enduring a tragic life event is petrifying and seeking help can be even scarier. I have had days, even after reaching out for help, where I felt like I didn’t want to carry on – like she had the right idea when she decided to leave us behind – but, as the time has gone on, I have started to have more days where I felt I like I wanted to live my life to the fullest because of her and fulfil all of the things she might have liked to do herself today: like falling in love, doing a job I really enjoy, going to watch football matches and living out as many of my dreams as possible.
For me, opening up to people has been the most important aspect of being able to move forward with my life. It took me a long time to do this – speaking to a therapist seemed uncomfortable, opening up to family and friends made me feel selfish and guilty, and there was no way my colleagues could know about this, even after the random crying after three glasses of wine at the Christmas Party!
I’ve learned that choosing to be vulnerable is not always a bad thing. The more you talk, whether that be to your friends, your family or your therapist, the more at peace you become with situations that you have no control over. I still have a long way to go, but I now have my closest confidants who love me just the same, even with this extra ‘baggage’.
During a stressful time recently, one of these confidants – a close friend – reminded me that I needed to just ‘be’. Whether that be to take a bath for as long as I liked, to listen to a song that reminded me of my cousin, to go to the gym or to just lay in bed and cry for hours on end. This is some of the most valuable advice I have been given in these 11 years. It reminded me that it is OK to make the time to do all of these things and not feel bad about it – some days, you may wake up thinking you could take on 100 burpees before a long day at the office, but others, getting out of bed to go to work can seem unachievable.
When constantly trying to keep up with an extremely busy lifestyle, I have learned it is very important in times of despair to remember to pause, take a deep breath and think about all of the great things that you have in your life already, because as I have discovered, there are so many.